London's Chelsea Flower Show opens with a splash by synchronised swimmers

LONDON (The Guardian) - A group of synchronised swimmers, including British Olympian Katie Clark, braved the rain at this year's Chelsea Flower Show to take a dip in a show-garden pond.

Clark, 21, Hannah Green, 20, and Robyn Bignell, 20, of the synchronised swimming group Aquabatix, wore hats made with 800 Dance chrysanthemums as they gingerly entered the water in the garden sponsored by asset management firm M& G Investments. 

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They said they loved swimming in the pond surrounded by British flowers.

"It is nicer to be somewhere where the water is more natural rather than in a big arena. Maybe the Olympic committee should keep their eye on this - they could include it in their pools," Clark said.

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Leading horticulturalists from around the world are displaying their designs at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, south-west London, this week.

The world-renowned exhibition pits homegrown talent against designers from as far afield as Australia and Dubai.

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Alongside the pond, which is edged with "water-loving plants", the M&G garden features a two-storey oak-framed building inspired by novelist and garden designer Vita Sackville-West's writing room at Sissinghurst, a woodland of river birches, acacias and acers, and a garden with tumbling roses and peonies.

M&G says the design draws on garden designer Jo Thompson's local influences, "from the vernacular architectural features synonymous with the Sussex and Kent countryside, where she currently lives, to the use of Purbeck stone from her childhood in Dorset... This romantic garden represents a quintessentially British restorative retreat, where visitors can unwind away from the hustle and bustle of city living."

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The flower show opens to the public today. Earlier yesterday, Prince Harry took a trip to the exhibition to visit a garden designed by Matt Keightley, who created a southern African-themed garden for Sentebale, a charity co-founded by the prince that helps disadvantaged children in Lesotho.

The garden features orange and red flowers, plants native to the small African country, and a waterfall to echo its streams.

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"The most difficult thing is the scale. We have 50 tonnes of stone in this garden - getting that in is difficult," Keightley said. "It has pushed me as a designer. It forces you to be more diverse. It is completely different and out of my comfort zone."

Keightley added that it was a privilege to be part of the show again, after his contribution to a garden for the Help For Heroes charity at last year's show.

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An estimated 165,000 people are expected to visit the Royal Horticultural Society's annual exhibition this week.

Other public figures expected to make the trip to Chelsea on Monday include TV chef Mary Berry, actor Joanna Lumley and presenter Davina McCall. Queen Elizabeth II also made an appearance on Monday afternoon.

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